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Informer: ‘Ivy League’ coined by newspaper columnists

Last Modified: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 10:48 AM

By Andrew Perzo / American Press

How did they come up with the name “Ivy League” for New England schools like Yale and Harvard and possibly MIT? How long have they been tagged with that name? Who started it and for what reason?

The designations “ivy colleges” and “Ivy League” were reportedly coined in the 1930s by two New York Herald Tribune sportswriters — Stanley Woodward and Caswell Adams, though sources differ on whether the latter deserves any credit.

The terms referred to a group of nine of the East Coast’s oldest schools: Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Pennsylvania, Princeton, West Point and Yale. The “ivy” stems from the vines growing on the institutions’ walls.

According to “Football: The Ivy League Origins of an American Obsession” by Mark F. Bernstein, “Ivy colleges” — initially a reference to all the above schools but Cornell — first appeared in a story Woodward wrote for the Oct. 14, 1933, edition of the paper.

“A proportion of our eastern ivy colleges are meeting little fellows another Saturday before plunging into the strife and the turmoil,” Woodward wrote.

“Ivy League” was first used in print in an Associated Press story that appeared in the American Press on Feb. 7, 1935.

“The so-called ‘Ivy League’ which is in the process of formation among a group of the older eastern universities now seems to have welcomed Brown into the fold and automatically assumed the proportions of a ‘big eight.’ ...,” the story reads.

“More significant, however, is the fact that the Brown football schedule for 1936 reveals relations with no less than five of the seven universities currently banded together in baseball, basketball and track, while also working out plans for the formation of a football conference.”

MIT, or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, isn’t an Ivy League school. It’s athletes compete in the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference.

Key dates in Ivy League history, as listed on the league’s website:

1945 — “The first ‘Ivy Group Agreement’ is signed, applying only to football.”

February 1954 — “The Ivy Presidents extend the Ivy Group Agreement to all intercollegiate sports. ... Although this is the League’s official founding date, the first year of competition is 1956-57.”

March 1971 — “The Ivy League becomes the last conference in the country to endorse the national change to freshman eligibility on varsity teams. Although the Ivy Presidents do not permit the change in all team sports, by 1980 the change is complete in all team sports except in football and men’s rowing.”

December 1971 — “With women now enrolled as undergraduates at all eight Ivy institutions, the Presidents unanimously approve the proposal of the Coordination and Administration Committees that ‘The Ivy Group rules of eligibility shall not be construed to discriminate on grounds of sex.’ ”

December 1981 — “A special NCAA convention creates a ‘I-AA’ football division and Ivy League members begin play in that division the following September.”


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The Informer answers questions from readers each Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. It is researched and written by Andrew Perzo, an American Press staff writer. To ask a question, call 494-4098, press 5 and leave voice mail, or email

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